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Mireille E. Kelley, Joeline M. Kane, Mark A. Espeland, Logan E. Miller, Alexander K. Powers, Joel D. Stitzel and Jillian E. Urban

OBJECTIVE

This study evaluated the frequency, magnitude, and location of head impacts in practice drills within a youth football team to determine how head impact exposure varies among different types of drills.

METHODS

On-field head impact data were collected from athletes participating in a youth football team for a single season. Each athlete wore a helmet instrumented with a Head Impact Telemetry (HIT) System head acceleration measurement device during all preseason, regular season, and playoff practices. Video was recorded for all practices, and video analysis was performed to verify head impacts and assign each head impact to a specific drill. Eleven drills were identified: dummy/sled tackling, install, special teams, Oklahoma, one-on-one, open-field tackling, passing, position skill work, multiplayer tackle, scrimmage, and tackling drill stations. Generalized linear models were fitted to log-transformed data, and Wald tests were used to assess differences in head accelerations and impact rates.

RESULTS

A total of 2125 impacts were measured during 30 contact practices in 9 athletes (mean age 11.1 ± 0.6 years, mean mass 44.9 ± 4.1 kg). Open-field tackling had the highest median and 95th percentile linear accelerations (24.7g and 97.8g, respectively) and resulted in significantly higher mean head accelerations than several other drills. The multiplayer tackle drill resulted in the highest head impact frequency, with an average of 0.59 impacts per minute per athlete, but the lowest 95th percentile linear accelerations of all drills. The front of the head was the most common impact location for all drills except dummy/sled tackling.

CONCLUSIONS

Head impact exposure varies significantly in youth football practice drills, with several drills exposing athletes to high-magnitude and/or high-frequency head impacts. These data suggest that further study of practice drills is an important step in developing evidence-based recommendations for modifying or eliminating certain high-intensity drills to reduce head impact exposure and injury risk for all levels of play.

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Mireille E. Kelley, Mark A. Espeland, William C. Flood, Alexander K. Powers, Christopher T. Whitlow, Joseph A. Maldjian, Joel D. Stitzel and Jillian E. Urban

OBJECTIVE

Limiting contact in football practice can reduce the number of head impacts a player receives, but further research is needed to inform the modification of optimal drills that mitigate head impact exposure (HIE) while the player develops the skills needed to safely play the game. This study aimed to compare HIE in practice drills among 6 youth football teams and to evaluate the effect of a team on HIE.

METHODS

On-field head impact data were collected from athletes (ages 10–13 years) playing on 6 local youth football teams (teams A–F) during all practices using the Head Impact Telemetry System. Video was recorded and analyzed to verify and assign impacts to a specific drill. Drills were identified as follows: dummy/sled tackling, half install, install, install walk through, multiplayer tackle, Oklahoma, one-on-one, open field tackling, other, passing, position skill work, scrimmage, special teams, tackling drill stations, and technique. HIE was quantified in terms of impacts per player per minute (ppm) and peak linear and rotational head acceleration. Generalized linear models were used to assess differences in head impact magnitude and frequency among drills as well as among teams within the most common drills.

RESULTS

Among 67 athlete-seasons, a total of 14,718 impacts during contact practices were collected and evaluated in this study. Among all 6 teams, the mean linear (p < 0.0001) and rotational (p < 0.0001) acceleration varied significantly among all drills. Open field tackling had significantly (p < 0.001) higher mean linear acceleration than all other drills. Multiplayer tackle had the highest mean impact rate (0.35 ppm). Significant variations in linear acceleration and impact rate were observed among teams within specific drills. Team A had the highest mean linear acceleration in install, one-on-one, and open field tackling and the highest mean impact rate in Oklahoma and position skill work. Although team A spent the greatest proportion of their practice on minimal- or no-player versus player contact drills (27%) compared to other teams, they had the highest median (20.2g) and 95th percentile (56.4g) linear acceleration in practice.

CONCLUSIONS

Full-speed tackling and blocking drills resulted in the highest HIE. Reducing time spent on contact drills relative to minimal or no contact drills may not lower overall HIE. Instead, interventions such as reducing the speed of players engaged in contact, correcting tackling technique, and progressing to contact may reduce HIE more effectively.

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Jillian E. Urban, William C. Flood, Barret J. Zimmerman, Mireille E. Kelley, Mark A. Espeland, Liam McNamara, Elizabeth M. Davenport, Alexander K. Powers, Christopher T. Whitlow, Joseph A. Maldjian and Joel D. Stitzel

OBJECTIVE

There is a growing body of literature informing efforts to improve the safety of football; however, research relating on-field activity to head impacts in youth football is limited. Therefore, the objective of this study was to compare head impact exposure (HIE) measured in game plays among 3 youth football teams.

METHODS

Head impact and video data were collected from athletes (ages 10–13 years) participating on 3 youth football teams. Video analysis was performed to verify head impacts and assign each to a specific play type. Each play was categorized as a down, punt, kickoff, field goal, or false start. Kickoffs and punts were classified as special teams. Downs were classified as running, passing, or other. HIE was quantified by play type in terms of mean, median, and 95th percentile linear and rotational acceleration. Mixed-effects models were used to assess differences in acceleration among play types. Contact occurring on special teams plays was evaluated using a standardized video abstraction form.

RESULTS

A total of 3003 head impacts over 27.5 games were analyzed and paired with detailed video coding of plays. Most head impacts were attributed to running (79.6%), followed by passing (14.0%), and special teams (6.4%) plays. The 95th percentile linear acceleration measured during each play type was 52.6g, 50.7g, and 65.5g, respectively. Special teams had significantly greater mean linear acceleration than running and passing plays (both p = 0.03). The most common kick result on special teams was a deep kick, of which 85% were attempted to be returned. No special teams plays resulted in a touchback, and one resulted in a fair catch. One-third of all special teams plays and 92% of all nonreturned kicks resulted in athletes diving toward the ball.

CONCLUSIONS

The results demonstrate a trend toward higher head impact magnitudes on special teams than for running and passing plays, but a greater number of impacts were measured during running plays. Deep kicks were most common on special teams, and many returned and nonreturned kicks resulted in athletes diving toward the ball. These results support policy changes to youth special teams plays, including modifying the yard line the ball is kicked from and coaching proper return technique. Further investigation into biomechanical exposure measured during game impact scenarios is needed to inform policy relevant to the youth level.